Kage Baker loved tamales. It was the masa more than anything else, I think; masa being one of those substances that perfectly explains why most Native American cultures worshipped corn as a deity. Masa is a transcendent food stuff – so complicated in its reaction with sauces and fillings and yet so simple in itself – it’s not so much a food as an experience.
Mendoza’s maize fixation was one of the few direct transplants between author and character. Usually, Kage was perfectly aware of the walls between Them and Her, and in fact couldn’t influence most of them, anyway. They were their own people; she just wrote down their adventures. Though she always said that she earnestly hoped she never met Mendoza; whom she was pretty sure was going to punch her in the nose …
Nonetheless, Mendoza got a pretty big dose of some of Kage’s passions, and corn was among them. Growing it, breeding it, researching it, and eating it in all ways possible. Masa was one of the best, because it was so versatile. Any meat, vegetable or sauce could be slapped on, and the results were gloriously edible; you could even add sugar and raisins and such, and make a pretty good steamed pudding. Though when Kage informed a Latina friend that that was what a sweet tamale tasted like, the friend was rather taken aback …
We grew corn several years, in the backyard of the cottage in Pismo. Kage found a variety that grew in opalescent and exquisite colours – pink, blue, lavender, green – yet was still a soft corn, suitable for eating. It enlivened many dinners.
For good masa, though, you really need to start with a hard corn. Rock corn, as Alex the Parrot called it; something out of which to grind the peculiar silky-oily flour that is masa. Despite success in several grinding experiments (And failures. Always check the torque and the horsepower of your food processor before tossing in granite or dried corn.), it was a hell of a lot easier to just buy masa pre-ground. Then you could spend all your prep time making tamales, or corn pancakes, or dumplings for southwestern stew …
It being a warm, glass-clear day in Los Angeles today; a day with a wind like a silk chemise on the skin, and a scent of orange blossoms everywhere – we decided it was a day for indulgences. My family decided that it was time to pay a visit to Tommy’s. There is a Tommy’s on Colorado Boulevard, out east of Eagle Rock – it used to be a Weinerschnitzel, of all things, and so is a drive-through. Kimberly and I went off and came back with chili dogs, chili burgers, chili fries and chili tamales. Wonderful, soft, fragrant, chile tamales …
It was divine. Harry – who has a most un-birdlike fondness for both spices and gooshy foods – ended up chili and masa to the his eyebrows. Even the Corgi – who has a most un-doglike pickiness about what he eats – gobbled his share down. And we humans just ate and ate … there is nothing like a Tommy burger. Or a Tommy whatever.
My aging stomach is currently debating whether or not chile tamales was a good idea, but I don’t care. I’ve been well-behaved for months, and I refuse to waste a beautiful soft spring day like this one was on sensible foods. Aroint thee, fresh veggies and whole wheat bread! Away, you sliced breast of chicken! I want onions, and unnaturally huge slices of tomato as red as blood, and chili so strong it dyes my spoon orange.
And masa, masa like pale velvet that dissolves on the tongue and fills the mouth with the memory of harvest sun and heat. Mouth to mouth with a kindly god, that’s how I wanted my meal tonight; and that’s what I got. Ah, fulfillment!
Kage would understand.
Oh, stop! I am dying here! I haven’t had a real Tommy’ burger in years…nor a Balboa Island chocolate covered banana with crunchy toffee bits. I am having withdrawal right this minute.
Ooooh – then I guess I shouldn’t mention that we had Crunch Bits Dibs for dessert …
I know many a guy who would audition potential love-interests by taking them to Tommy’s on Rampart. If they couldn’t cope with the messy, gooey goodness, they didn’t make it to girlfriend status. I miss Tommy’s!
Yeah, I can see that being able to cope with a Tommy’s burger would show genuine quality. And they are as messy and gooey – and as good – as ever, I do assure you. It was a great indulgent feast.
For your masa and tamale pleasure – if you’re ever down this-a-way:
As you prefer, the masa is silken. Tamales are genrous, an entire chicken leg inside. The spicing is moderate and imaginative. The karaoke is optional.
Oooh, that sounds good, Tom, It will go on my list.
Freeway close in San Fernando is the best, bar none, tamale spot in town. Next time you’re out and about you must go there. Sublime, truly, and the masa is amazing.
Ah, masa. One of nature’s most perfect foods. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the tamales a neighbor used to make for us at Christmas time: the pink-dyed sweet ones and beef ones with a special mild sauce for our gringo palates. And my mother’s chicken tamale pie! *sigh*